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Life, Death and Genealogy

By Daniel Hubbard | March 11, 2012

This week, true to the name of the blog, I’ll be meditating.

It has been a busy week. I’m working on several projects, gave a talk and have three more coming up that need preparation. I attended a genealogy get-together at our library, have an article for a quarterly to write and on Wednesday I will post a book review here.

This will most likely be a short post.

Yesterday we had a few things on our schedule—an orchestra competition, pickup from a school clothing sale, a basketball game and a funeral. Another aunt of mine passed away and now that age group is nearly gone. We’ve been balancing honoring the previous generation with the needs of the next. It brings home the steady march of the generations, a march that, as family historians, we document.

Does genealogy get in the way of life, does life get in the way of genealogy or do we balance past, present and future for the benefit of all three?

We document lives from long ago and not so long ago. Sometimes we put people on pedestals, where statues, not people, belong. Sometimes we discover their humanity and take the statue down and shake the hand of the real person we’ve just discovered. Sometimes a person appears and we slowly bring them into focus. Other times, that person’s edges remain fuzzy because they never existed or the records are too few.

As we look back, we examine lives and at the same time live our own.

At the luncheon after the funeral, my children asked me, “who are all these people?” “Cousins,” I said, “they are mostly my cousins of one kind or the other. That makes them your cousins too.” As we talked with them, my first cousins all (and all is many) brought up the family get-togethers from before I was born. They took place at the house where my family now lives, our grandparent’s house. The kids would play outside, running around the enormous spruce tree in our backyard or playing volleyball next door in the backyard of yet another aunt. The adults would gather in the cool of the basement, which just happened to be the only place big enough to hold all of them. Oddly for a basement, it is apparently a sacred space in the memories of my cousins—filled with the smell of my grandmother’s baked beans heating in a giant pot and waiting to be joined by thick slices of her oatmeal bread. Every time our basement was mentioned, peoples’ eyes lit up with childhood memories of a time before I can remember. But they remember.

We record and recreate memories but we also make memories of our own and someday we will leave memories behind.

Next weekend will be much the same as this one. There will be research to do. There will be another memorial service to attend. There will be more basketball games to cheer as my daughter’s team gets their one weekend of March Madness. The generation before and the generation after. The previous generations that we research and the future generations that we hope will absorb at least some of what we pass along will all be represented.

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